UBC researcher Bryn Crawford holds a sample sheet made with flax bio-waste. The black spots on the sheet indicate mould growth. —Image: UBCO

New research finds mould can infiltrate and weaken bio-composite materials

UBCO researchers find mould on a substance will affect its strength and durability

When something goes mouldy in the fridge, it is annoying and wasteful.

However, at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering, mould is proving increasingly important in the domain of engineering materials and can lead to early deterioration and structural failure. This is especially the case as manufacturers adopt more bio-derived materials in the drive towards a greener future, says researcher Bryn Crawford.

At UBCO’s campus, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the Composites Research Network and the Department of Biology, in collaboration with MIT and the National Research Council of Canada, have been studying the development and application of bio-sourced composites—specifically flax and hemp fibres.

These materials are plentiful in Canada and can be mixed with other materials to create cheaper, recyclable, and effective composite material products that are used by a range of industries, including in transportation.

“Canada has a lot of biomass that can be used to produce materials that are both light and inexpensive,” explains Crawford. “We’re looking at ways of using biomass in engineering, but there is a level of natural deterioration in these products that is still not fully understood.”

In the study, researchers conducted a number of experiments to determine if and when mould will grow on bio-materials and how it might affect the final product.

“When we bring microbiology into engineering, it raises some extra questions; some questions we’ve never thought about before,” said Crawford. “But because we’re now using biological matter, we have to think of fungal growth and how this fungal growth will affect a product’s performance.”

The research team examined flax and hemp fibres alongside other natural materials to determine what would happen over time to these fibres. They created ‘fibre sheets’ and then added fungi to some, water to others, and left another group of sheets untreated.

Crawford says they are not surprised that the materials grew mould; the idea of the project was to determine the types of environment where the fungal spores would grow and then test mechanical properties of the affected materials. The team conducted a variety of tests examining them for strength, stiffness, or the amount of energy that can be absorbed before the bio-composite materials failed. They also used scanning electron microscopy to take an extreme close-up of the interior of the sample to determine fungal growth patterns, examine fractures, and failure zones.

“It was a huge experiment and we found that in both the hemp and flax fibres, when no fungi were added, we still had fungi growing,” Crawford adds. “Basically, when raw natural fibres are exposed to high relative humidity, mould will grow and the potential for premature structural failure can occur.”

Crawford says that this susceptibility to mould growth is important for supply chains and factories to understand and manage, in order to ensure they’re creating durable and robust products.

“Bio-composites made from natural fibres are good for both the environment and the economy and could help usher in the next revolution in manufacturing. More multi-disciplinary research of this kind is vital to producing high-quality and durable bio-composite materials that help make that leap.”

The research was recently published in Materials and was partially funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Nature et technologies. It was conducted in collaboration with Sepideh Pakpour, Negin Kazemian, John Klironomos, Karen Stoeffler, Denis Rho, Joanne Denault and Abbas Milani.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@KelownaCapNews
newstips@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

JoeAnna’s House construction breaks ground in Kelowna

Moving forward on temporary housing facility for KGH out of town patient family members

Gold, silver, and bronze earned by Lake Country skating club in latest competition

The Central Okanagan skaters competed in the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition

Kelowna man named as one of Canada’s top 10 insurance brokers

Garrett Jones, with Valley First, was named in Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Kelowna Rockets hire former NHL defenceman as new head coach

Adam Foote named new head coach following the firing of Jason Smith earlier in week

‘She’s charging. Oh God’: Mama grizzly runs at B.C. man armed with shotgun

People online were quick to question – and defend – a man’s decision to shoot a grizzly bear charging him on a Bella Coola front yard

Watch it again: Kelowna mayoral candidates square off

Missing the LIVE Kelowna mayoral debate watch now

Canada announces $20M fund for women entrepreneurs

New federal program will provide up to $100,000 for female business owners to grow their operations

Vancouver Island man claims falling ice smashed his truck windshield

Man discovered volleyball-sized chunk ice on his truck Saturday, near Nanaimo, B.C.

B.C. veteran combats PTSD in the ring and on the farm

Cam Tetrault is a valuable contributor at Quesnel’s Two Rivers Boxing Club

B.C. vegan butcher to appear on Dragons’ Den

Victoria’s Very Good Butchers will star in Nov. 29 episode

Shuswap offers one-stop wellness for seniors

Salmon Arm centre for seniors with chronic conditions offers collaborate approach to health

Fast ferries from B.C. spotted in Egypt

Controversial aluminum BC Ferries vessels ’big white elephants covered in dust,’ eyewitness says

Canadian troops, families take shelter in hotel after Florida hurricane

Most of the Canadians were evacuated from the military base before Hurricane Michael

Most Read